Sweets

Halloween spiral pastry stuffed with pumpkin and cheddar

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It’s always hard to entice someone to try, let alone spend time to cook something which they share utterly zero cultural or emotional connections with.  We are after all, creatures of habits and comforts, and both were properly brought up to not speak to strangers.  For this particular reason, one might even call it an excuse, I have been hiding from you one of my all-time favorite pastries.

I’m obsessed with this stuff.  But what is it exactly?  Even nowadays when Asian is the new Italian culinarily speaking, It’s still so foreign and… “unintroduced” to the western repertoire that there’s no appropriate English-ish vocabulary to name it.  What I’m talking about is a Taiwanese pastry called Yutou Su.

Yutou, is taro, simple enough, thank god.  But Su, is sort of an umbrella term for a huge varieties of pastries, and in this case, referring to the laminated pastry dough that is stuffed with mashed taro. .  The word basically says “crumbly” and “flakey”.  And boy, is it a word of its word.  I wish I could ask you to think of croissants or pie crusts as a way of culturally bridging you to my side of the gap.  But it resembles neither.  Its uniqueness lies in its waffer-thin layers, fantastically delicate, almost like the wings of a bee or a single-ply tissue paper, tightly and intimately leaning on one another to form a beautifully spiralling crust that is flakey yet soft, gentle, feminine even.  The mildly sweet, smooth-as-butter mashed taro inside only adds to this pastry’s, how do I say, motherly embrace.

But after saying all that, today, I’m not making Youtou Su.  I knew that with its unfamiliarity, plus an elusive root vegetable as a main ingredient no less, my wish to bring it into your home kitchen and hopefully to stay would walk into wall of polite rejections.  I knew I’ll need another way in, a gateway drug, perhaps a trojan horse wrapped in the costume of one of America’s most highly participated holiday.  Yes, the Halloween.

What used to be a swirl of pastel purple is now a raging tornado of spooky black and dark orange.  Where used to be taro is replaced by a smooth pumpkin paste with a centre of gooey melted cheese thrown in for good measure.  It works.  Sweet pumpkin seemed to have long desired the company of the sharpness of cheddar, and the loud costume didn’t talk over the delicate nature of the pastry.

It’s different from the original, to say the least, but no less delicious.   And dare I say, a lot more fun.

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Halloween spiral pastry stuffed with pumpkin and cheese

Yield: 12 pastries

Technique adapted from Qiong Cooking

Ingredients

  • 1 Japanese/Korean Kent pumpkin or 2 cans of pumpkin puree (see note*)
  • 12 bite-size cubes of American cheddar cheese
  • WATER DOUGH: strongly recommend measuring by weight
  • 1 1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp (150 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 4 tbsp (55 grams) lard (yield better result) or unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp (30 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) water
  • FAT/OIL DOUGH: strongly recommend measuring by weight
  • 3/4 cup (96 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 4 tbsp (55 grams) lard (yield better result) or unsalted butter
  • Black and orange food dye (see note**)

Instructions

  1. START THE DAY BEFORE: We want to prepare the pumpkin filling and the water dough the day ahead or up to 3 days before serving. To make the filling, you can either start from fresh pumpkins or canned pumpkin puree. Make sure you choose a low-moisture pumpkin such as Japanese/Korean Kent pumpkin (the video demo shows what it looks like). Peel and remove the seeds, then cut into 1/2-inch small pieces. Scatter on a baking rack and bake in a 270 F/130 C FAN-ON or 300 F/150 C NO-FAN oven for about 1 to 1:30 hour, until the pieces have lost about 1/2 of their original volume and look shrivelled up. Blend with an immersion blender or food-processor until smooth and sweeten with light brown sugar to your liking. The puree should be very thick, more paste-like than puree. To use canned pumpkin, evenly spread the puree on a baking sheet, then bake under the same temperature for about 1 hour, until it has lost 1/2 of its volume. Blend again to make it smooth and sweeten with light brown sugar as needed. Store in the fridge until needed.
  2. MAKE THE WATER-DOUGH: At least one day ahead of time, knead all the ingredients for water dough for about 5 minutes, until supple, soft and smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge at least overnight or up to 3 days to allow gluten to further develop. It can be used straight from the fridge when needed.
  3. ON THE DAY OF SERVING: With an ice-cream scoop about 3 tbsp in total volume, make a scoop of pumpkin paste and press a bite-size piece of cheese in the middle. Level out the top and release it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat until you have 12 scoops. Transfer into the freezer to let it harden slightly before use, but do not let them completely freeze (cheese doesn't freeze well).
  4. MAKE FAT/OIL DOUGH: In a bowl, knead together AP flour and lard or unsalted butter until smooth. Divide the dough in 2 equal portions, then color 1 portion with black food dye, and the other with orange food dye. How much to use will depend on the dye you're using, so add a little bit as you go until you reach the desired shade. Then roll each colored dough into a log and divide into 12 equal portions each, and shape into little tubular nubs (like in the video). You'll have 12 nubs of black, and 12 nubs of orange. Set aside.
  5. SHAPE THE PASTRY: Take the water-dough out of the fridge and divide into 6 equal portions. Shape into a ball, and set aside each in the CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER they are handled. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Go back to the first water-dough ball, roll it out into a 3"x4" (8x10 cm) oval shape, then place 1 black tube, then 1 orange, then 1 black then another orange side by side in the center of the oval. Bring the water-dough together to wrap the colored-dough inside and pinch the seams to tightly close it. Gently flatten it down slightly, then place it back to its chronological order. Repeat with the 2nd water-dough, so on so forth until all 6 are done.
  6. Now go back to the first dough you worked with, turn it so the alignment of the colored dough is perpendicular to you. Roll it out, with even pressure on both hands, into a long oval that is 1 feet/30 cm long, not longer (or you risk losing the layers). If there are excess white dough at each ends of the oval, trim it off. Then roll it from one end to the other into a little cigar. Place it back to its chronological order. Repeat with the 2nd dough, so on so forth until all 6 are done.
  7. Now go back to the first cigar, place it perpendicular to you, then roll it out again into a 1 feet/30 cm oval. Fold it onto itself length wise (now you'll have a really skinny strip), then gently roll it again just to enclose the fold. If the strip gets slightly longer then 1feet/30 cm, it's ok, but no more than by 1 inch/3 cm. If there are excess white dough on each ends, trim it off. Roll it from one end to the other into a tight snail, then put it back where it belongs, and repeat until all 6 are done.
  8. Go back to the first snail. With a sharp knife, slice the snail right down the middle into equal 2 disks. Place the cut-side down, then roll it out into 4 inch/10 cm wide circle, keeping the centre of the spiral in the middle. Place a filling (straight from the freezer is fine) in the middle, with the round side facing down, then bring the dough together and pinch to enclose. Set aside on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and repeat until you're done with all 12.
  9. Preheat the oven on 340 F/170 C (meanwhile keep the pastries in the fridge), then bake *on the lowest rack (to prevent top browning) for 25 minutes. Let cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before serving.

Notes

* If you want to start with fresh pumpkins, it's important that you use a low-moisture variety like Japanese/Korean, aka Kent pumpkin. They are small in size with a very sweet, flavorful flesh. But if you don't care about the filling being orange, you could also use chestnut puree, taro puree, lentil puree as fillings.

** You can use both natural or artificial, powder or liquid food colorings. It's totally up to you.

https://ladyandpups.com/2021/10/15/halloween-spiral-pastry-stuffed-with-pumpkin-and-cheddar/
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Chewy marshmallow nougat w/ cheese crackers and pistachio

”  It has just the right resistance, just the right gives, and just the right amount of crunches, dense and chewy yet airy and textural.  “

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In case you’re wondering why there’s again a video instead of process photos, I’m actually thinking about experimenting with this new format from now on.  Based on feedbacks, videos seem to demonstrate the makings of the recipes much better than photos, and hence removing more fear and unfamiliarity from people who are trying to make them.  So I will keep doing it this way and see how it all goes.  

So putting that aside, what we have here today is what I would like to call a marshmallow nougat, or marshmallow crisp, as some also call it, a snow crisp.  It is a very popular, well circulated, essentially a nougat-like candy bar of sort that’s been making buzzes in Taiwan and Hong Kong’s food-fad circles.  For someone who’s not in the slightest bit into candy bars, even less so with nougats specifically, I too fell for its satisfyingly chewy texture with airy crunches from the crackers that are generously dispersed throughout.  But if you know what a snow crisp is and are wondering, “but wait, this looks nothing like it!”  Well, I can explain.

Look, here are my issues with the typical recipes of snow crisps…

Let’s start with the “snow” part of things, which one could safely presume is the white coloring of the bars because of the marshmallows.  In order to make the marshmallow denser and chewier like nougats, and not soft and stringy like say rice krispies, a significant amount of dry milk powder is mixed in with the melted marshmallow to absorb the excess moisture.  Not only that dry milk powder is not exactly a common grocery store or household item – even if you were armed with a baby, because it is NOT baby formulas – but I’m also not an avid fan of its dull and weighing flavors that easily cloy.  Then to move onto the “crisp” part which refers to the crackers, I am again puzzled with the common choice of plain crackers that appears in most available recipes out there.  Shouldn’t one seize this as a perfect opportunity to introduce more interesting flavors, particularly one that would nicely tango with the sweetness?

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Enter, a two-birds-with-one-stone solution.  Salty cheesy crackers.

One part ground up finely, and another simply broken up, the cheese crackers fit into this nougat puzzle so snugly, almost fated, like a long lost soulmate.  The cracker powder absorbs the excess moisture from the marshmallow just as efficiently, turning it orange in hue, whereas the broken ones prevent the whole thing from becoming too dense by inserting airy crunches in between every bites.  Keen yet gentle, the cheesiness willingly recedes into the background, leaving an overall complex but well-balanced, savory-sweet profile that tingles with some mild tartness from dried prunes and the occasional nutty bonuses of roasted pistachio.

It has just the right resistance, just the right gives, and just the right amount of crunches, dense and chewy yet airy and textural.  One after another, me and my candy-averse husband, probably you too, literally could not stop eating these.

Sure there is definitively nothing “snow” about this.  But consider it a Jon Snow.  A bastard with true substance that you can’t get enough of.

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Brûlée Coconut, Palm Sugar, Pork floss sticky buns

”  It’s savoury-sweet kinda thing, you know, obviously, but also smokey around where a mixed aroma of coconut, butterscotch and bacon meet and greet.  “

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What in the world is pork floss?!

And where the hell do you get palm sugar?!  Or both, for that matter?!

Ok fine, so I knew this is gonna be a hard pitch.  And I’m probably not helping my case when I tell you that pork floss, invented by an anonymous Chinese likely on a night of massive insomnia, is a brownish cotton ball made of predominantly pork, which is cooked, shredded, then painstakingly dehydrated while being tumble-fried inside a wok until what used to be muscle tissues have then transformed into super fine, fiber-like fluffs.  Whaaat?!  And as if that’s not mind-bending enough, its flavor profile wonders in between savoury and sweet with a maple bacon or jerky-like porkiness oozing into your sensory space as your mouth grapple to understand this textural anomaly.

It’s really just like any other culinary ingenuities that took form initially as a means to tackle food preservation before refrigeration, but ended up being cherished by its culture even till this day.  Stretching from southern China down to Southeast Asia, hey, pork floss matters.  For every skeptics, there also stands a loyalists who would cradle and defend this “porky cotton” if you will, against the world’s cynical suspicion.  I too, love this shit.

Having said that, pork floss is not a stand-alone item.  It needs companies.  And as it has been increasingly branching out from its traditionally more savoury roles towards making collaborative debuts in, of all things, sweet pastries all across Asia, I feel it’s time for this surprisingly multi-faceted talent to be introduced to a more internationally recognized platform.

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Failproof flakey pastry stuffed with mochi and chocolate

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Listen, I’ve made this flakey pastry about four times now.  And each time, no matter how every single signs along the way was pointing towards an inevitable heartbreaking disaster, somehow, miraculously, it always turned out amazing.  I’ve stuffed them with jam and cheese, with fruits and nuts, and this time, with bittersweet chocolate blended together with dark brown sugar and peanut butter plus a good chewy padding of sticky rice mochi on the bottom, and still I couldn’t manage to fuck it up.  More crispy and shards-like than puff pastry, but more defined and layered than pie crust, comes together fast and relatively easy, and goes down even more so.

So, as someone with a very unlucky track record in the baking arena, I pass this recipe onto you.  I’d say good luck, but something tells me you won’t need very much of it.

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Glazed Tadpole-oca donuts w/ salted peanut dust

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Publishing a recipe that is aimed at overtaking an old one on a recipe blog like this, is a bit of a dangerous rabbit hole to fall down in.

For starter, it implies that the old recipe being replaced, however satisfactory it was left for the public consumption in good faith, was after all, only subpar in comparison.  An uncomfortable admission that these recipes, or at least some of them, are only as good as the limits of their developers at the time whose standards may at some point surpass their own creations.  That some recipes are ultimately, imperfect and transitory.  Which then leads to the question that, well, if one recipe here is found to be less than worthy of eternity, or at least till the end of mankind due to disasters of cosmic proportions, then who knows how many other recipes here are potentially shy of such basic standard?  Because if this isn’t the promised space that guarantees unequivocally immaculate cooking manuals that fill the empty pockets of our blip of an existence in a totally indifferent no-shit-given universe, then what are any of us even doing here?  What’s the point?  I mean do you know?  Does she know?!  And when I said she, I meant I.  What’s the meaning of all this??  Do I even deserve to live??!!

So you see, a bit of a hole.

But sometimes, things have to be done, holes have to be jumped into.  Which brings us, to this mochi donut.

A few years ago at an early age of this blog, I published a donut recipe that aspired to yet fell short of mimicking the lovingly supple and chewy texture of a Japanese donut franchise called Mr donut, or aka, the pon de ring donut.  To my defense, the recipe was accurately differentiated as mochi donut instead of pon de ring, because it was made of sticky rice flour instead of tapioca flour, and obviously shaped as a traditional donut instead of a ring of beads which simply can’t avoid suspicious sexual implications as it was typed out loud.  But even as a mochi donut, although deliciously soft and chewy while they were warm, it was slightly denser in texture and even mores so once they became cold.  An issue for people, even if only an untrained few, who aren’t mentally equipped to ingest a dozen donuts in one short sitting.

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The truth is since then, for years, I’ve been sitting on a tapioca flour-batter recipe that is extremely easy to put together and lands on a donut that greatly if not perfectly mirrors the light and airy, silky yet chewy texture that had pushed pon de ring donuts to stardom amongst iconic Asian pastries.  But, I haven’t told a living soul about it.

Why?  Let me focus on the word, batter, here, meaning a formless glop that is impossible to shape into ringed beads (stop it) without specifically designed pipping machines to do so, as it is done in Mr Donut factories.  Meanwhile the other pon de ring recipes across the internet which purposely made the batter denser like a dough in order to be formed into tiny beads one by one that are then arranged and stuck together on a parchment before frying just so you can finally have a reason to hang yourself from your shower rod afterwards, is frankly, for a lack of better word, stupid.

So for years, I sat on this recipe thinking, nevermind, it’ll never work, until one day, all of a sudden I realized, I was the one being stupid.

Seriously, who cares if thy donuts aren’t carrying an unambiguous resemblance to cheap second-grade adult play toy?  And if you’re screaming yes yes you do! to that question, who shall safely remain anonymous god bless the internet, then I shall make an even strong, gastronomical argument against such silliness.  Because I realized, by not insisting on an uniform shape and dropping the batter into the fryer in a specific motion, the end result rewards me with these elongated “tails” that became extremely crispy and chips-like which stay crispy several hours after, a pleasant surprise that contrasts the pillowy “main body”, a puffed golden browned air balloon that deflates as your teeth sink into its unexpectedly weightless and uncluttered interior, proportionally coated on a single hemisphere with glossy, vanilla seeds icing.

Held delicately by its tail, a dainty bouncy morsel that curtsies with a crunch.

I call them, the tadpole-oca donut.  And they come with salted peanut brown sugar dusts. Bead that.

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”  the end result rewards me with these elongated ‘tails’ that became extremely crispy and chips-like which stay crispy several hours after  “

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The amazing paradox of scallion popover s’more

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” Nothing about this makes any sense… Yet it’s going to change the s’more world as you know it. “

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Mark my words.  None of this makes any sense.  Nothing about it suggests that it should work.  Scallions and marshmallows?!  If you now shelve this idea in the lightless skepticism inside your head, it will forever be just a reminder that I – the Asian chick who has been left unchecked for far too long in the internet wilderness – have finally gone mad.

But if you could just push aside your good senses (the little voice inside your head telling you that the third powdered donut won’t help you, yes that one, scrap it), this recipe will turn the s’more world as you know it, upside down.

Yes, scallions, possibly one of the least likely substances to be associated with s’more next to pickled herrings and petroleum, against all odds, has somehow proven to be a miraculously effective liaison between our taste buds and the buttery, slightly chewy sweetness of charred marshmallows.  Yes!  That is what I’m saying!  But how could this be?  Have I lost my mind?  Well, I wish I could take the credit for this insanity but in cold hard reality, I did not, sadly, invent this.  In fact, I have utterly stolen this idea from a Taiwanese cracker that is sold in all major Taiwanese airports, the scallion cracker nougat sandwich.

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Yes, that’s a real thing, scallion soda cracker sandwich with a nougat filling.  Not that the case for savory-sweet hasn’t been established elsewhere, but none has ever been so curiously bizarre, absurd to a point.  Even the attempt to imagine the two flavors conjoining triggers a repulsion reflex put in place by millions of years of human evolution.  So what kind of a sick person came up with this twisted though in their evil lair, I didn’t bother to look up in my bitter jealousy, but what’s for sure is that it has turned every skeptics, Taiwanese or not, into a believer that the age for scallions to join the company of confectionary has finally arrived.

So why don’t I just do a recipe for a scallion crack nougat sandwich, you ask?  Well, if you have ever intended to make soda crackers at home you’d know that it is an unnecessary labor with negative returns.  And homemade nougat, even more so.  Try to stuff a little dollop of the latter inside the former and repeat 40 times?  Yeah I didn’t think so either.  Especially when there is an alternative for both that are not only easy and rewarding to make at home, but in my opinion, far more superior in textures, tastes, and last but not least, fun.

A foolproof scallion popover recipe that is pop-guaranteed with gorgeously crispy crust and a warm and spongy center, salty and buttery where just the right amount of scallion aroma permeates through its pores.  Then its naturally hallow cavity gently holds together the liquified state of the caramelized marshmallows, unstable stringy and promising, until you take your first faithful bite to collapse its integrity, as the crispy and spongy savoriness of the popover clashes against the burnt and buttery candy-ness of the marshmallows.  How unlikely so yet incredibly right.

And you too, from this point on, will forever wonder and marvel at the paradox that is the new s’more.

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Japanese melty iceboox cheesecake

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I’m sitting here, struggling with how best to explain to you all why this Japanese version of the burnt basque cheesecake is superior than the original in every single way possible, mentally auditioning all the angles I could cut into this subject that I think is going to change the way you think about cheesecakes in general.  How it’s possibly the easiest cheesecake your kitchen-incompetence will ever behold… how it has complexities in its flavors that reminds me of a caramel flan… how its play between temperature and texture is brilliant… how the outer layer is rich yet airy while the center remains creamy and gooey, melting almost instantly around the heat of my tongue…  A R-rated story on how cheesecake and  ice cream had a baby?  I considered that, too.

But it dawned on me that these are all just supporting facts, facts that you will witness, I’ve no doubt, as soon as you make one yourself in your kitchen.  What really stands in between you and making this cake is not the certainties, no.  It is the doubt, one single doubt really, the only elephant that needs to be removed first and swiftly before everything else could just fall into place.  Because I know what you’re all thinking.  Here, I’ll say it with you.

Isn’t this just an undercooked mistake?  

No, no it is not.  It is fucking not.

Is soft-boiled egg a mistake?

There.  I don’t know how much simpler I could put it.

Now, welcome to the only cheesecake you’ll ever bake for the rest of your life.

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if cheesecake and ice cream had a baby.

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Confession of an escapist cook, Hong Kong-style milk tea gelato

(I stood there) mildly confused about what just happened. But a long-overdue sense of consolation and the temporary release from anger and malcontent forbid me to investigate.

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(An edited version was published on Heathyish).

In a sweltering, Hong Kong summer afternoon only slightly tempered by the torrential rain that had just begun to batter the island, I stood in my kitchen trying to figure out the golden ratio for brewing a cup of silky Hong Kong-style milk tea, a legacy of course left by the city’s British colonial past, while on TV across the room, a black blanket of soaking wet protesters numbering in over a million stretching as far as the eye can see, were marching for Hong Kong’s future.

Democracy, is what’s on their table.

I felt a sense of commotion creeping up my chest as I tried to drown it by scorching the tea leaves with my screeching kettle, watching them tumble and twirl inside the tea pot in a hopeless toil. But it did little to distract me from realizing, once again, what a familiar predicament I am in. Because the very reason that I am in Hong Kong, is precisely because I was determined to leave the place that Hong Kong is becoming in its current trajectory – and fighting not to be – China.

In 2008, after the titanic economic crash that would later come to be know as The Great Recession, I left New York with my husband who was offered a job in Hong Kong and later moved to Beijing for its more stable market. Little did I know, the following six years would become the most turbulent, if not emotionally destructive period of my life. Under China’s increasingly heavy-handed authoritarian rule, the very act of living in a place clashed violently with what I was brought up to uphold, however naïve, as a principle for democracy and civil rights. It’s a place where the personal surrender of liberty is made painfully apparent every day, where you are required to be okay with what you’re allowed to watch listen or say, where even the access to VPN (virtual private network to bypass the great firewall) is closely administered under the moody mercy of the Chinese government, which is difficult if not unreachable most times of the year.

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Surely, as many would argue, that if you just take it lying down that the daily functions of life can go on like any other places, but I couldn’t just take it, this constant psychological bullying, and the worst of all is knowing that by accepting this oppressive reality in exchange for economic gains, I was in some way, complicit.

But leave… I did not; I stayed; I made dinners; I abided.

Then one night, as mundanely miserable as any other, as if something had snapped, neurologically almost, perhaps prompted by the salted sting of happier people living happier lives in Rome on TV, I hovered into my kitchen in an eerie silence. I laid out my subjects in a pathological orderliness, unbleached flour with 9% protein, free-range egg yolks, water and salt. I can still remember plunging my hands into the wetness of this flour mixture, in a trance almost, squeezing choking and tearing it until this unruly and sordid coagulation slowly transformed into a shiny globe of supple, silky and harmonious cohesion. After impatiently allowing it to unwind, I then force its unsuspecting body through the cold, revolving steels of a pasta machine, watching silently its malleable mass extruded and aligned under the unnegotiable pressure into a pristinely edged and sleek sheet of silk. Oh the jitters, I paused only momentarily to relish in this anticipated gratification, before I robotically drove repeated incisions into its surrendered body until its severed parts laid in uniform strands on my bare countertop.

For a while I stood there, looking down on my hands encrusted with dried fluids, mildly confused about what had just happened. But there, a long-overdue sense of consolation and the temporary release from anger and malcontent forbid me to investigate.

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